Your Excellency President Hamid Karzai,
Your Highness the Aga Khan,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me the greatest pleasure to welcome you to this Enabling Environment Conference.
This, in fact, is the second Enabling Environment Conference that the Aga Khan Development Network has been responsible for organising. An earlier one was held in Nairobi, Kenya, back at the end of 1986. The problems at the time in East Africa had much in common with the problems we are facing today in this country: hesitancy on the part of the private sector to commit large capital investments in areas considered to be of high risk; difficulty for the local, private sector to form the assets or the capital necessary to secure loans; inability of entrepreneurs to rationalise the inflated capital requirements that they were obliged to assume as a result of delays, lack of appropriate legislation, multiple layers of authorisations etc. These difficulties were, at the time, exacerbated by a lack locally of fiscal legislation specifically aimed at stimulating private investment and private entrepreneurs.
However, in East Africa at that time, as here today, there was, on the part of Government, the recognition of the general principle that ensuring to the private sector the expectation of reasonable returns on investments within a reasonable period of time was in the national interest.
I think I am right in stating that in that 1986 conference in Kenya, it was the first time that Government, business and civil society had met in a tripartite forum to review and identify common concerns and to define common responses and resolutions to those concerns.
This Enabling Environment Conference for Afghanistan has its origins in a statement by His Highness the Aga Khan at the January 2006 London Conference on Afghanistan.
The primary focus of this conference, it seems to me, is what the private sector, both local and foreign, encompassing business as well as not-for-profit civil society, can do to accelerate and improve economic and social development in this country. In particular, how job-creation can be stimulated and how the quality of life, both economic and social, of the average citizen, be he resident in one of the cities or in the rural areas, can be improved. It has been now over five years since the end of 2001 and certainly progress has been made in this country, remarkable and praiseworthy, in many sectors: elections have been held, public institutions are gradually being rebuilt or created, the Afghanistan compact has focussed attention on, and sought to face and resolve, specific challenges.
Yes, much has been done by the Government, but yes more can and must be done if the legitimate aspirations of citizens are to be met, if tangible improvements are to be brought to the quality of life of citizens of Afghanistan and their confidence in the future maintained and reinforced. There is, I believe, a certain urgency at this time to identify and set in motion the requisite actions.
Significant preparatory work has gone into the realization of this conference. I should like to thank here all those who have been involved in what has been a time-consuming and relatively lengthy process. Many have been involved in preparing this conference, including the Afghan Government, the Aga Khan Development Network, the World Bank, UNDP, the Asian Development Bank as well as businesses, civil society organisations and the international community. My gratitude and thanks to all those who have helped. Analytic papers and case studies have been commissioned; research studies have been completed; international experts have been engaged; and extensive consultations have been held with businesses and civil society all across the country, from Kabul to Jalalabad, from Herat to Mazar-i-Sharif and elsewhere. Even the Afghan Diaspora in places such as Canada and Germany have been involved. And today, grouped here, are representatives of the Government, the National Assembly, business and civil society, both local and foreign, and of the international community.
The development agenda of Afghanistan is complex, both for historic reasons and in view of the country’s post-conflict situation. How best to make full and effective use of Afghanistan’s human potential, to generate material resources and to develop an expanded and more robust socio-economic base is the broad subject of this conference. The complexities that currently exist are not diminished by the recurrent accusations and criticism that are levelled in the areas of security, corruption and drug-trafficking.
Our AKDN experience has taught us that development is an integrated phenomenon that must be approached and implemented within an integrated framework, covering simultaneously the material, social and cultural requirements and desires of citizens. Work, good health, knowledge and the access to knowledge, security, faith and spiritual life, the arts, pleasing and stable built and natural environments, physical activity – all go hand in hand in creating a life which is full, which is rewarding.
In particular, I attach much importance to the development of what one might term a middle-level of economic activities, that is to the expanded and accelerated creation of small and medium-sized enterprises. It may be high risk, indeed, but it is also labour-intensive, market-responsive, imaginative. Such enterprises both respond to and stimulate the spirit of entrepreneurship which is of the essence of any national economic development.
It is my hope that this conference will act as a catalyst leading to concrete steps that will be taken by all parties to this initiative. We know in our collective wisdom what the problems are. Our challenge now is to determine and agree on the practical measures necessary to resolve those challenges within an acceptable timeframe. I hope that this conference will articulate practical actions and that it will chart out a road map with clear responsibilities to be fulfilled within an agreed timeframe. Already, I believe it is showing the way to institutionalising the dialogue between Government and the private sector.
Let me end by expressing once again my gratitude to the Government of Afghanistan for hosting this initiative and for its warm hospitality, to the participants here present for their instructive engagement in our debates over the next two days, and to the creative thinkers, experienced practitioners and decision-makers who will identify, I trust, the next steps and the future programme of actions as also the means and responsibilities for implementing those steps, that programme.